UK panel says new three-parent IVF technique now safe for 'cautious use'

LONDON (Reuters) - A three-parent IVF technique designed to reduce the risk of mothers passing hereditary diseases to their babies is safe enough to be offered to patients in special circumstances, a British expert review panel said on Wednesday.

Britain’s parliament last year voted to change the law to allow the three-parent in-vitro-fertilisation (IVF) technique known as mitochondrial transfer, which doctors say could help prevent incurable inherited diseases.

The technique involves intervening in the fertilisation process to remove mitochondria, which act as tiny energy-generating batteries inside cells, and which, if faulty, can cause fatal heart problems, liver failure, brain disorders, blindness and muscular dystrophy.

The treatment is known as “three-parent” IVF because the babies, born from genetically modified embryos, would have DNA from a mother, a father and from a female donor.

Research teams around the world have tested and trialled the techniques in a series of pre-clinical experiments, but as yet they have not been used to treat patients in Britain.

The world’s first and so-far only known mitochondrial transfer baby was born earlier this year after U.S. doctors working at a clinic in Mexico helped a Jordanian couple conceive using the new three-way treatment.

In Britain, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) will decide whether to issue the first licence to a clinic. It had convened an independent expert panel to explore current scientific evidence and offer recommendations.

Publishing its conclusions on Wednesday, the panel said the techniques should now be approved by the HFEA for “cautious” use in “specific circumstances”.

Various studies including one published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, have added to significant progress in the development of the techniques, the panel said, and they are “now at an acceptable stage for cautious clinical use”.

Specialists welcomed the review’s recommendations.

Robert Meadowcroft, chief executive of the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK, said the recommendations, if approved by the HFEA, would be “a major step towards the reality of offering an effective treatment to the 2,500 eligible women in the UK”.

Darren Griffin, a professor of genetics at Kent University said that “in the current climate, where it seems that hype and hyperbole appear to outweigh measured decision making based on the facts, it’s pleasing to see a victory of common sense”.

He said the review was good news for families at risk of transmitting mitochondrial disorders “and infinitely better than the alternative of children suffering with horrible diseases”.

Reporting by Kate Kelland; editing by Richard Lough